Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich is a prime example of the kind of player Bill Belichick has built his team on. Once considered a castoff long snapper by the Saints, Ninkovich has earned two contract extension from the Patriots and looks to be one of the pieces Belichick considers a building block.
When the Patriots went to a four man front this season we knew that the Strong Side Outside Linebacker would be a key position that the Pats would need production out of. We weren’t even sure who would play the spot until Ninkovich emerged as the only defender who could. Ninkovich ended up turning in a season where ProFootballFocus had him ranked as the Patriots second best run defender and third best defender overall.
Ninkovich has done a little of everything for the Pats this year. From rushing the passer as a defensive end, to his most common spot at SLB in the 4-3, to outside linebacker in the 3-4; it’s clear that Bill Belichick trusts him in a variety of roles because of his smart and tough play.
Against the Broncos this weekend the Patriots will need a stellar effort from Ninkovich. Despite missing two costly tackles early in the first tilt in Denver, Ninkovich had enough of a turnaround to make that game his highest PFF-graded one of the season.
Ninkovich’s bread and butter is against heavy running teams like Denver, and when he’s on the Patriots usually roll. When he’s not, like against the Steelers early this year, the rest of the defense tends to struggle as well.
His experiences a few weeks ago with trying to tackle Tebow should serve him well, but setting the edge will be absolutely vital for Ninkovich. Keep an eye on him in the game, as he goes so goes the Patriots D this weekend.